At the crack of dawn each weekday morning, teaching assistants and a group of bus drivers set out to fetch some 140 intellectually impaired and physically challenged children from their homes.
The distance they have to cover is vast. From their starting point in the heart of Lansdowne, they are required to journey as far afield as Bo-Kaap, Green Point and Steenberg, and frequently into gang-stricken areas like Manenberg.
These teachers perform their duties without question or complaint, such is their commitment to the children of the Bel Porto School. Without these selfless acts, these youngsters’ happiness would be severely curtailed.
However, the current economic climate is making life exceedingly difficult for the staff at Bel Porto, a school that provides physiotherapy, aromatherapy, dance movement sessions, pet therapy and vocational training in addition to daily lessons.
“Particularly in the past five years, we have felt the crunch,” said Judy Sobotker of the Bel Porto Foundation, the school’s fundraising arm.
“We are subsidised by the Western Cape Education Department, but we constantly experience shortfalls in basic school and transport fees. The school provides transport to about 60 percent of our 240 pupils twice a day which is financially draining to maintain and fuel buses.”
Ms Sobotker indicated that it seems as if specialised schools always take the biggest knock when it comes to meeting budgets under the current financial climate.
“It is very challenging, because for many Bel Porto is our pupils’ only outlet and safe haven for a couple of hours per day. Some come from very challenging backgrounds, which is why they love coming to school.”
Bel Porto operates on a phase model basis; managing Pre-School (seven- to eight-year-olds); Foundation Phase (10 to 11-year-olds); Intermediate Phase (11 to 13-year-olds); and Senior Phase (15 to 17-year-olds).
“Pupils start vocational training when they turn 18, where we encourage developmental and work skills, covering gardening, car washing, woodwork, cooking, arts and craft to name a few. These skills put them in good stead to live independent, adult lives after their journey at Bel Porto. Some pupils are placed in workshop facilities, do basic employment or work for family businesses.
“I cannot speak highly enough about all our staff . They are committed to creating a safe and attractive environment for our children. We like our pupils to enjoy the outdoors and sunshine, allowing them to exercise and walk around the school and enjoy the farmyard. This is why we take special pride in our beautiful garden, thank you to our maintenance staff for their hard work.”
On a tour of the facilities, it became clear that every effort is being made to provide a stimulating environment for these children. A beautiful tree-lined soccer field as well as a court for ball games and other activities are lovingly cared for.
In the classrooms, the children, some wheelchair-bound and others who are intellectually impaired, enthusiastically responded to the teacher’s questions, delighted to be given the opportunity to voice their opinions on the subject at hand.
To say that Bel Porto is a happy place does not do justice to the school’s remarkable dynamic. An overwhelming sense of joy pervades every interaction, with teachers and pupils sharing an unshakable bond.
“Our infrastructure is in place and a few improvement needs to be done, funding is needed,” Ms Sobotker said.
“We have retiree bus drivers who are so dedicated. The class assistants do so much to support the teachers, assisting children with school work, changing nappies, feeding, cleaning the classrooms, then back onto the bus, assisting the bus driver in transit, safely transporting children to their homes or pick up points.
“The reality is we wish we could do more. We are having our fifth annual food fair on March 11 and in need of donations. This event has been successful as a fundraiser in the past, bringing families and communities together. We are hoping this year’s event will be well attended and extra special, as we are so desperately in need of funds.”
Ms Sobotker also appealed to private donors, individual and the business sector who would like to assist the school to contact her on 021 697 2986 or 083 951 0294. Alternatively interested parties can email firstname.lastname@example.org; The Facebook page also carries updates of daily activities.